Dr. Laura Olson works with the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Crisis Prevention and Recovery Unit as a Senior Consultant where she conducts Post-Disaster Needs Assessments, designs Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) strategies and recovery frameworks in developing country contexts, and trains government employees on disaster response and prevention across the globe.
She has worked in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa with the UN leading disaster recovery missions. She also works with FEMA on disaster recovery nationally, helping U.S. communities rebuild after catastrophic incidents.
In her scholarly research, she works closely with the United Nations University Institute for the Environment and Human Security and Virginia Tech’s Global Forum on Urban and Regional Resilience (GFURR) looking at the human cost of disasters and at cutting-edge approaches to building resilience in high risk environments. Her research is practical and solution-oriented, and engages with practitioners using vulnerability, risk, and social resilience models to develop community-based approaches to climate change, disaster recovery, sustainable livelihoods, and disaster management dilemmas. She has responded to disasters and crises for 15 years working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the White House, American Red Cross, United Way, VOAD groups, and the United Nations, and has worked on major incidents such as Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Oil Spill, the Tuscaloosa tornado, Hurricane Sandy, the recent war in the Gaza Strip and a variety of smaller disasters. Her expertise includes organizational development and change management in post-disaster contexts where she builds the capacity of practitioners and management teams to design and execute large-scale disaster recovery programs.
She has a PhD in Public Administration from The George Washington University School of Business, two Master’s Degrees from the Karls-Ruprecht-University in Heidelberg, Germany (Political Science and German Literature), and a B.A. in Political Philosophy from Macalester College.